Late last week, a little boy was shot as he, his mother, and 14-year-old sister were driving down a California highway. The boy was sitting in the back of their car on a booster seat. According to his sister, the boy told his mother, “Mommy, my tummy hurts.” She pulled the car over to the side of the road, and held her son as he lay dying in her arms. The boy’s name was Aiden Leos. He was 6.
It seems someone driving a white Volkswagen Golf cut off Mom’s Chevy Cruz, so she flipped off the driver. Apparently the Golf’s driver, or a passenger, felt justified responding to Mom’s hand gesture by shooting a bullet into her car.
When I worked with middle school-aged children, I would teach them we tend to make our worst decisions when we’re mad. When we’re mad, we’re not thinking, we’re just acting, so the things we regret most in life are often those things we do or say in the heat of the moment. I taught my students there would always be something that makes them angry. That’s just the way life is, and often what distinguishes successful people from those who seem to struggle all their lives is how they handle situations that make them angry.
I would go on to explain it’s not necessarily wrong to be angry. If someone calls you a name, or harms you, or one of your friends, it’s only natural to be mad, but that does not give you the right to respond anyway you want. It’s when we use our anger to justify a response that’s equally wrong that we cross the line.
When a person flips you off on the highway, it’s only natural to be upset, but that does not give you the right to respond by shooting into their car.
Impulse control is particularly difficult for middle school students who have brains that are not yet fully developed. Self-control is a skill that needs to be explicitly taught and practiced. Unfortunately, too many students grow to be adults who never learned how to keep their emotions in check, with results that can be every bit as tragic as Aiden Leos’ senseless death.
Cellphones, texting, Twitter, Facebook and the rest don’t help. They do nothing to teach kids self-control. In fact, they do just the opposite.
When I was a kid, if I did something wrong, I was sent to my room, where I was isolated from the world for a period of time. It was just me and my thoughts, and that gave me time to reflect on whatever got me sent there in the first place. That isolated reflection tended to serve to calm my emotions and help me learn from my mistakes.
Today, too many kids don’t have the benefit of that time to reflect. The minute their parents say or do something they don’t like, they grab their phones and receive immediate confirmation from their friends that their parents are idiots. There’s no time for learning life lessons.
Kids today have many ways to cultivate their anger, but what they need are the skills necessary to help them control it. Failing that, many will enter adulthood with well-developed anger control issues exacerbated by a social media which provides them powerful tools to express their anger unrestrained.
Someone posts something we don’t like and we instantly feel justified labeling them, for all to see, a fascist, a left-wing extremist, a right-wing nut job, a racist or a snowflake, and say whatever other hateful thing happens to pop into our mind. Add to the mix concomitant mental health issues and too many adults end up being firecrackers looking for a match.
I ask you, do people seem to be more or less in control of their emotions these days?
We all need to learn to better manage how we respond when something makes us angry. A good place to start might be our own Facebook or Twitter posts. Go back and take a look at your posts and ask yourself, if you were speaking with someone, would you say to their face the things your thumbs typed in perceived anonymity? Do your posts set an example you would want your children to follow about how they should speak to and treat other people? If we all learned to let more moments just pass without comment or response, perhaps tragedies like Aiden Leos’ death could be avoided.
Chris Roemer is a former banker and a former Carroll County Public Schools middle school principal who writes from Finksburg. Reach him at email@example.com.
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